Vienna II: small bites, big city

here, finally, are my last thoughts on Vienna!
in case any of you were unaware, internet in Southeast Asia is ridiculous.
actually internet pretty much everywhere has been awful. I should’ve bought one of those mobile wifi stations. those are things. that would’ve been awesome.

Vienna is elegant. it’s a city known for architecture, music, and art.
you know, boring old rich people stuff.
I can’t picture droves of young people flocking to the city for crazy partying and club scenes (although I’m sure it happens).Vienna seems more sophisticated; people are smartly dressed, sipping coffee or wine at a sidewalk cafe, dressing up for the opera. it’s not stuffy or high brow- just has a feeling of class.

Kohlmarkt Street, one of the oldest & most expensive shopping streets in Europe.

the city from Stephansdom Cathedral.

purple-lit cathedral ceilings, and the pipe organ.

the front garden of the Belvedere Palace.

for a quintessential Vienna experience, the thing to do is check out the symphony, or an opera, or if you’re lucky/crafty enough an actual honest-to-goodness ball. of course because the Viennese are already much classier than us tourists, seated tickets for operas, ballets, and concerts at the State Opera House- the Staatsoper- are always sold out, and crazy expensive. but you can get standing-room tickets for 4 euros on the day of the performance, so naturally I thought that was a must-see for a classy person such as myself.

I waited patiently in line for two hours and got tickets for the ballet Gisele. waited again inside for the show to start, feeling oh-so-superior to the plebs in the standing section with me; to bring shopping bags! to wear jeans! so not classy.
then about ten minutes into the ballet I realized that ballet is boring and I didn’t want to sit through three whole hours of these people tip toeing around on stage to music that was, in my opinion, only meant for lullabies and soothing plants.
silly Sarah. you are not classy!
so I bailed at intermission and went across the street to the famous hot dog stand and bought a giant, spicy wiener and it was amazing.

I’m sure the ballet was lovely, and if you’re a genuinely high-cultured person you would probably love visiting the decadent opera house; but there’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like. and I like a spicy wiener.

besides, "wiener" comes from "Wien", which in English is Vienna. so I'm participating in local culture! 

inside the Staatsoper (State Opera).

food for the gods (or just me, give them all to me).

grafitti on the Danube; the hipper side of Vienna?

even though I might not have appreciated some of the pomp and circumstance that Vienna had to offer, I did enjoy the general posh feel of the city. it’s beautiful, and clean, and even getting coffee is a luxurious experience. Vienna fun fact: its cafes have been named “intangible world heritage” by UNESCO. the Viennese are just oozing culture and caffeine.

the cafes were by far my favorite part of the city. and not because of the food, and not even really because of the coffee. there’s just a really great, leisurely atmosphere at a cafe. you mosey in past the sidewalk tables, they tell you to find a seat wherever, then you wait. no one in these places is in a hurry; the waiters will get to you when they get to you, and the patrons don’t rush through their lunch breaks. these people really know how to relax.
and then, also, the coffee usually fantastic.
order a cafe melange- classic Viennese coffee- and watch the world go by for a little.

the famous Sacher Hotel & Cafe.

Sacher Torte, Austria's national dessert.

a cafe at the Naschmarkt.

click "read more" for thoughts & reviews on what I did/saw/ate in Vienna!

a retrospective

. . .

ok, so I'm going out of sequence here with a text-heavy post.
just think of reading my blog as time travel. and it's my timeline, not yours, so you can jump around however you want and the universe won't implode and there won't be any paradoxes etc. etc.
you are now visiting me present day (which incidentally is your future, because time zones are cray, and also my past because there isn't really a present... wibbly wobbly!)
. . .
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today I’m feeling a little proud of myself as a traveler. 

it wasn’t a particularly eventful travel day, and definitely not what I’d call a successful one. but that’s when I really start to feel it in my blood. when, at the end of a rough day, I still feel like it was worth it. the few good moments glow in my memory and outshine the exhaustion, the discomfort, sometimes physical pain. all the bad fades and what remains is good humor and a sense of wonder, at things as simple as pleasant conversation with fellow travelers, or Vietnamese coffee, or the realization that I can get back to my hotel on my own. at the end of the day, I feel satisfied. I’m excited for tomorrow, not dreading it like I do so often when I’m stuck in a routine. 
whatever travel bug bit me was a serious mofo. 

so, here’s the story.
no nutshells, be warned.

today was a bit of a challenge possibly because it was my first day being alone again. Brandon and I went our separate ways yesterday, him heading back to New York and me continuing on to Ho Chi Minh. when you have kind of a rough day and you’re traveling alone, it feels so much worse. I kept thinking that if I was with someone, anyone, at least we could chat, or make light of the situation, or strangers wouldn’t keep coming up to me and trying to give me a ride on their motor bike (no thank you, only Freddie Mercury could pull that off). 

anyway, after arriving in Vietnam yesterday and surviving the grueling immigration process, I got a good night’s sleep and woke up ready to take on the chaos of the city! 
well, I thought I was ready.

Ho Chi Minh is ridiculously confusing. with smartphones and google and the internet it’s been a long time since I’ve been lost in a city, but in Ho Chi Minh it took me about 15 minutes. maybe it would’ve worked out if my phone/data worked in Vietnam, but hey, it doesn’t, so I had to rely on a good old-fashioned map. every street seemed to have the same name, or the same name with a number or letter added, and the side streets had the same name as the main street, and things were not where they were supposed to be! I wandered around for an hour and a half looking for two banh mi places my Airbnb host recommended to no avail; I never did find one of them, and the one I FINALLY stumbled upon didn’t open till 4pm… which I kind of feel like should’ve been mentioned. (and don’t say it’s because it’s street food and that’s an evening thing or whatever because apparently banh mi a common breakfast and this was around lunchtime so HA.)

to make matters worse it was about a thousand degrees and I was completely drenched in sweat and hadn’t even started my day yet. 

the rest of the afternoon I was kind of on autopilot; I walked into the first Vietnamese restaurant I came across that had wifi and had a pretty yummy lunch, even though I had no idea what I was ordering and that bugged me. the AC made me feel a little better. 

I got a cab to the War Remnants museum, which was very intense and shocking and sad, but also informative. kind of a bummer but definitely a must-see, especially if you don’t know much history surrounding the Vietnam war (which I did not). 

the map showed the Reunification Palace about two blocks away, but I ended up walking for another 20 minutes to find the right entrance. then I couldn’t hail a cab, and while Uber is the most recommended way to get around the city it kind of requires an internet connection, so I ended up walking to my next destination. and got even sweatier and hotter and crankier. 

by the time I got to the meeting point for my walking tour (yeah, after spending about five hours walking already) I was dehydrated, had an embarrassing stain on my pants because they were damp with sweat and well, dirt is brown, and my thighs were burning from from unfathomable chub rub (tmi, don't care, it's real). 

my hopes were not high for the evening.
but, as tends to happen when I travel, it ended up being a pretty great time. 

I did an Urban Adventures street food tour and I was in a pretty bad mood at first. I was uncharacteristically quiet and distracted due to my physical discomfort, and just keep thinking that I couldn’t wait to go back to my room and take a shower. but it turns out there were a lot of stops where we could sit along the way, and the actual walking was not so far nor frequent. by the time I sampled a few local specialties, talked myself out of eating balut (couldn’t do it), and ok, yes, had a cold beer; I was really enjoying myself and the company.

I was with a really nice group of people- even met someone who lives pretty close to me in Brooklyn!- and our tour guide was wonderful. we ended the evening at a coffee shop that I never in a million years would have discovered on my own- it was in this incredible, old building with miscellaneous shops, apartments, rooms for rent, big unfinished spaces, just a mish-mash of unique things on every floor. the Vietnamese coffee was, of course, amazing, and we all had a great chat about our travels and plans and homes and it was just… lovely. 

I snagged some wifi, got an Uber back to the neighborhood I started in, and walked confidently back to my Airbnb. 

so here we are. 

I’m not proud of myself because I did a good job today. I’m proud that, in spite of everything, I’m excited for what’s next. it’s about the experience, after all. might be good, might be bad, but either way, it’s an experience that I feel privileged to have. and tomorrow I’ll do better.

and now at least I know where that one banh mi shop is. 

coughing & coffee in Vienna

it feels like ages ago I dragged my beer-soaked, germ-ridden self off the train from Prague and into the elegant streets of Vienna. 

the first two stops on my solo world tour were wonderful, but by their powers combined I was struck down in the prime of lime (not a typo, a very dated pop-culture reference); Reykjavik was far colder than I anticipated, and Prague weakened my immune system with delicious alcohol. 

that's my convoluted way of saying I was miserably sick. 

that's a lot of the reason why I'm behind on my updates; I was guzzling vitamin C and going to bed early while tantalizing anecdotes and wanderlust-inducing photos were patiently waiting to be shared!
but that's the thing about Vienna...
it waits for you. 

oh yeah, I've had that one cookin' for a while. 

even though though I was feeling like garbage physically I still have only the most pleasant memories of the city. it was so calm and leisurely and just a little decadent. if I had to be sick somewhere on this trip, at least Vienna was a decently comfortable place to do it.

without any further ado, here is you photographic introduction to Wien!
reviews and etc. coming soon!

Schloss Belvedere.

a first glimpse Stephansdom Cathedral.

the Holocaust Memorial... the lower statue is a "street cleaning Jew" and represents the hardships Jewish people faced in Vienna even long before WWII.

the Vienna State Opera; I prefer its German title, the Wiener Staatsoper. cause wiener is a funny word.

inside the Staatoper. 
fun fact: the Viennese originally considered this building to be horribly ugly! such delightfully high standards!

Lipizzaner horses in front of the Hofburg Palace.

the view from the North tower of Stephansdom.

inside the cathedral.

Viennese coffee melange at Cafe Korb.

favorite Vienna experience: cafe culture.

can't go to Vienna without seeing some Klimt. 
(and I basically paid 15 euro to see this so I am most definitely posting a picture)

on the terrace of the Albertina. 

just Czeching in

safe to say I am really falling behind on the travel blogging, since this is only my third post, it's about Prague, and I am writing it in Bangkok. 


blame it on the bad internet or the magically disappearing scheduled posts or the crazy sleep deprivation. definitely don't blame my unreliable personality. 
well, here's more Prague!
I promised more architecture shots, and I got bunches of 'em, interspersed with ramblings on what I did while I was there. 

the rambling is symbolic, you see. you can meander confusedly through this post the way one might meander the winding streets of Old Town Prague. 
nailed it.

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I did a LOT of walking in Prague, and an uncharacteristically high amount of walking tours. I'm not always a tour person- I like to plan my days myself and see things at my own pace. but sometimes I do like a walking tour on my first day, like an orientation of sorts, and the hostel offered a free one, so why not, right? I had such a short time in Prague and didn't really know much about the city (I was sans guidebook for once) and after the great experience of that very first tour, I stuck with what worked. 

I did three tours with Good Prague Tours, and let me tell ya, they were more like GREAT Prague Tours!
bet their marketing team couldn't come up with that gold. 

the first free walking tour was a great way to see all the main sights and really get my bearings. our guide was Lucie, and she was fun and informative and super helpful. at the end of the walk you got a discount if you wanted to do more with that company, so I added the Prague Castle tour for a taste of Prague history, and the beer tour for a taste of... well, beer.

for the Castle tour our guide was V (he had a very Czech name and just told us all to call him V) and he was funny and really knew his stuff. touring the Castle seemed better than aimlessly wandering without really knowing what I was looking at, and as a bonus, V brought us to the John Lennon wall at the end. 

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for the beer tour our guide was James, and like his aforementioned colleagues he, too, was nice and really knew his stuff. plus he had the added challenge of keeping track of and speaking over about 15 drunk people, so kudos to James. 

people will tell you that beer tours are a waste of money- you can go anywhere and get a beer, just go to the bars, blah blah bah. but what I like about them is that you get a little cultural insight, you get to learn a little, and you get to meet people who have similar interests to you- in particular, traveling and beer. 
it's especially helpful if you're traveling alone and want to both a) experience a little nightlife and b) not be murdered. 
(side note, that was mostly a joke; Prague is extremely safe for ladies traveling alone. I only mean that if you're nervous or also just in general don't fancy drinking alone- which I don't- beer tours are very social!)

with that in mind, I did a second beer tour in Prague. 
Czechs are all about beer, you guys. it's a big deal. I needed to really immerse myself in the culture. completely necessary. 

this one was with Urban Adventures, and was actually very different from the one with Good Prague Tours. this tour had bar snacks included, and the group was smaller and less rowdy- which could be a pro or a con depending on your mood. our guide was Casey, and he took us outside the center of Prague for a different neighborhood experience. I had a great time and enjoyed learning a little about Czech beer culture. plus, the food and beer was fantastic! 

the Good Prague beer tour seemed a little more mainstream and touristy (again, could be a pro or a con) and the crowd was younger and more boisterous. I chatted a lot more with the group, and got more of a Prague "party vibe". great time once again.

overall I'm really glad I chose to do two beer tours, because they were very different experiences. I'd recommend Urban Adventures if you want a more intimate setting, but the vibe definitely depends a lot on the people who end up in your group. Good Prague Tours is more drinking-focused (shots were involved) and seemed to attract younger people (much, much younger than me). but I'm sure the group dynamic varies a little. 

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and that about covers the sightseeing and walking I did in this remarkable city! I haven't filled you in on much else yet, but Prague was definitely my favorite stop in Europe. I had such a fantastic time there- everything was five stars, would see again.

at the end of this post I included a little more info (MORE info Sarah? geez you're a bit of a windbag yeah I know, I know) and reviews of stuff from Prague if you want the specifics (ones that I can remember). 

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food & drink stuff:

first off, I'm a big dummy and didn't write down the names of places I ate or drank. mostly because  they were stopovers on one of my bazillion tours, but also because they were written in Czech. I wish I had made better notes, but live and learn! I shall improve!

I do, however, have a few general notes about Czech food and beer that I can share, and hopefully they will guide you to your own delectable discoveries.

- Prague is really rough on vegetarians. they basically eat only meat and dumplings- the only vegetable I had while I was there was cabbage. it was delicious cabbage, but still.
- Czech food is yum, though! it's all very rich and hearty and tasty. don't be afraid to try it!
- goulash is actually a "meat soup," which sounds unappetizing, but tastes fantastic. it's always just a little bit of beef, a lot of liquid on a plate (yep a plate) and huge bread dumplings to soak it up.
- svickova is my favorite Czech dish; beef in cream sauce served with cranberries and... yep, more dumplings.
- nakladany hermelin is the best bar food ever; it's a marinated cheese and comes with Czech bread, which is always fantastic.
- Petnika is the bar that we visited on the UA beer tour and it had my favorite beer in the city; Unetice 11,5 Zitna Special (rye beer). also great bar snacks! a little outside city center, but easy to get there by metro.
- Czechs invented lager, and most of their beers are pilsner/lagers. you can still find other kinds of beer, but they aren't as common or traditional.
- beer is crazy cheap and most people will have one with every meal (I've been told even breakfast). you can get a small one if you're wary of getting day drunk.
- more foam is better and never, ever scoop it off!
- beer is the most important thing in Czech culture and if you like it at all you should do some research or go on a tour because there is just no way I can accurately convey its importance.

review stuff:

the Czech Inn/ St. Christopher's: stayed at this hostel. big fan of the first name, not so much a fan of them having two names. confusing for the airport shuttle. I stayed in a female dorm and it was big and clean and quiet. there's a bar in the basement that I never went to (see: above beer tour rants). the staff is very friendly and helpful. the internet sucks.
★= 4/5  

Prague public transport: safe, cheap, easy to use.
trams are frequent and very efficient. stops are always announced and displayed, so it's hard to miss. if you end up going in the wrong direction, just hop off and walk across the street- they take the same route both ways. my hostel sold tram tickets and day passes, but you can usually get them at convenience stores nearby stops (if you can't find a ticket machine).
the metro functions pretty much the same way, but obviously you can buy tickets at the stations.
★= 5/5

Good Prague Tours: find all their stuff here. I didn't get to check out the Bone Chapel, but it sounded pretty cool.
★= 5/5

Urban Adventures Prague Beer & Czech Tapas tour: find all UA Prague tours here. I really like this company, and they do tours all over the world (of which I've done several).
★= 5/5

as you can tell, there was not much I didn't like about Prague...

Prague magic

wow, this trip is flying by.
I'm already at stop number three and I've only got one real post up?! how do people do this? I need to take travel blogging lessons. or time management lessons... or life lessons... where's this popular "school of hard knocks" I keep hearing about? do they have degrees in how to not be a complete disaster?

well, at least I can say that the main reason I've been having trouble finding time to write is that I'm actually doing real-life stuff! I'm not procrastinating like classic Sarah would do. 
I had a quick two-and-a-half days in Prague, and it was glorious. honestly, I enjoyed it far more than Reykjavik (but more on that later).

Prague is so charming and cool. it felt eerily calm, but humming with activity beneath the surface- sometimes literally; in dimly lit bars, after dark, in basement restaurants. it's a like a city out of time, old and new, quiet and buzzing, classic and contemporary. I've been to a few cities, both ultra-modern and old-world, and Prague has a really unique energy, like it's balancing between those two worlds. 

I'm sure part of what gives the city that vibe is the juxtaposition of all the architectural styles- Renaissance, Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Baroque- and it makes for a perfect visual representation. honestly I could do a whole post on just random beautiful buildings in Prague (and I probably will), but to start off here are just a few of my favorite photos of this enchanting place.

(and one or two of me, because it's really hard to photograph yourself while traveling alone so any successes are worth sharing shut up)

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oh, and beer. beer is very important here. it's a whole thing. I should also do a whole post on Czech beer, but I really didn't retain enough information since while learning about said beer I was also sampling the product...

there are some things you will just have to experience for yourself, dear readers. 

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just a little bit

time for an update!

first off, I'm still tired. but that just seems like my normal state of being so I'm not blaming Iceland (or Prague, now).

second, the reason this update took so long is because it's been a very dramatic couple of days (or, for those of you who know me well, melodramatic- obviously). I won't go into detail, but it involved me very nearly having to buy a new camera and also falling off a bus. the second thing wasn't related, it  was just embarrassing and really hurt.

another reason is, well, I've been having fun. and struggling to write and post on a blog while using crappy internet is not on the top of my list of authentic cultural experiences. but there are many things being noted and much being learned, so there is more to come!

for now, I thought I'd share a little taste of my Iceland photos and jot notes of other memorable things!

Gullfoss (+ rainbow!) on the Golden Circle.

...& the canyon view

Geysir, the O-Geothermal spout. 


me, all pensive and relaxed at the Blue Lagoon.

strangers at the Lagoon enjoying a waterfall massage.

scenery at ├×ingvellir. 

IMG_5110 Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik.

other notable experiences include:
- some kind of rye bread that was soaked in sugar and is basically food for the gods
- meeting and barhopping with three random Canadian travelers
- the Blue Lagoon legit makes your skin feel like magic
- buying an adorable and overpriced pink wool hat because I somehow didn't expect a place with "ice" in the name to be as cold
- there's a penis museum

more details to come, but for now it's back to enjoying Prague!
peace out, mortals.